Was Team GB ever really a team?

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badge_button_united_kingdom_flag_1600_wht_1991It may have been a marketer’s dream but were the 541 diverse athletes who comprised Team GB at the Olympics in any sense a real team?

Harvard Professor J Richard Hackman studied teams in a wide range of settings and was something of a guru when it comes to effective teams.

From his research he identified not causes but core conditions for effective teams;

1. The team must be a real team, not just a group of people doing the same thing (what he calls a co-acting group)

2. The team must have a compelling direction for its work

3. It must have an enabling structure that facilitates rather than impedes teamwork

In addition to the three core conditions there are two supporting conditions viz a supportive organisational context and sufficient support for the development of team members.

Some key questions to ask of team members are:

  • Are you dependent on each other?
  • Do you know who is in the team and who isn’t?
  • Do you know how much authority you have?
  • Do you have a stable team?
  • Are you energised by your team’s vision?
  • Does you team have a sense of direction?
  • Do you feel engaged by your team?
  • Do you see your work as meaningful?
  • Do you feel personally responsible for work outcomes?
  • Do you receive trustworthy knowledge of the results of your efforts ie feedback?
  • Does your team operate within a supportive organisational context?
  • Does it have available ample & expert support and coaching in teamwork?

Clearly you can answer YES to several of these questions.

However whether or not these elite athletes have the same vision as the British Olympic body is questionable.

Usually elite athletes such as these focus on their own performances (Bradley Wiggins was an honourable exception) but that means that they should feel responsible for their outcomes.

It’s doubtful if they are that dependent on each other; and would they know every one of the 550 athletes in Team GB?

They are certainly being provided with coaching and other technical support and regularly receive feedback.

So a lot of boxes are being ticked but you can’t make exact comparisons with business teams (about which there are lots of mistaken beliefs).

It’s also a big team, bigger than the majority of companies in the UK, and more like a regiment or a community. However even looking at it as a community it far exceeds Dunbar’s number of 150 ie “the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained“.

The team is also spread across different venues so is like a virtual team in that respect.

So Team GB is probably less like a real team and more like a co-acting group.


It was later announced that not all the athletes in Team GB would be attending the opening ceremony. BOA chief executive Andy Hunt said that around half of the 541 athletes attending the ceremony would be a “reasonable” outcome.

None of the tennis, swimming or athletics squads would be there, while members of the eventing, sailing and road race cycling teams werealso set to miss out. Others, such as triathlete Alistair Brownlee, were training in other parts of the country and overseas.

They’ve been told to put performance first which means getting a good night’s sleep. So whose idea was it to have the opening ceremony start at 2100? Did sponsorship or TV rights have anything to do with it?

In terms of the team spirit I would have thought that if the athletes felt part of Team GB they would want to be there together.

Which brings me back to my question: Was Team GB rely a team?


One thought on “Was Team GB ever really a team?

    […] The longer groups worked together the less the emotional conflict. This is in line with Hackman’s work on […]

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